Have you ever tried talking to a loved one about your mental illness and they respond with a list of suggestions? This can be a frustrating (but understandable) issue. A common misconception in this kind of scenario is when the other person feels like you’re asking them to fix whatever is wrong. We wanted to figure out a way to help those eager friends & family members to learn that sometimes the best thing they can do is to listen. So in hopes of educating others about this, we asked our Instagram community two questions:
1) What does it mean/feel to be heard?
2) How can other people become better listeners?
Read below for their answers.
7. The best thing you can do in most situations is listen. Especially when it comes to mental health issues. I know from experience, I am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, OCD, Complex PTSD with BPD tendencies. Having someone listen with an open mind and without the aim to “fix” me was craved in my life quite a bit. So often people listen to reply but rarely do they ever listen to just listen. I spent five years volunteering for the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC and two and a half years working for them as a group Co-Facilitator and listening was part of my job. To become a better listener you must actively listen. Don’t listen to reply or actively think of your reply while listening to another, listen first then think and then respond. Don’t go into it with the intent of “fixing” the person, people aren’t problems to be solved, your friend is not a math equation. Remember you are not a professional, it isn’t your place to treat them. Last but not least, saying things such as “it could be worse” or “at least your not homeless” or something along those lines is not helpful. Telling someone things could always be worse just invalidates their feelings and makes it seem like you think they have no right to feel the way they do.
8. You do not have to be a therapist to learn how to listen. And you do not have to be a ‘patient’ to have the need to talk to someone. Communication is essential to a good mental health. It is indeed very sad and frustrating that the people closest to you can arrogantly believe they know you better than you do. It is sad to speak the same language and not being understood. Kafka wrote a letter to his father that shows exactly that. I find that when I need to not be a psychologist and really want someone to listen to me it helps when in a conversation I express myself freely and the people I am talking to allow me to be as vulnerable as I want to without them feeling responsible or interrupting me with their preconceptions. Don’t pretend to know, just shut up and listen.
9. I’ve been battling heavy anxiety, depression, and dissociation for the past few years. It has been an ongoing process learning how to cope with my own thoughts on a daily basis. One of the hardest things for me to do is communicate to the people in my life when I am affected. I have lost countless friends and missed many opportunities to make new ones simply because of a lack of ability on my part to express myself, or others lack of ability to truly hear me. One of the most valuable tools I have when dealing with my own mind, is having somebody there to listen. Not to try and solve the problem, but just to hear what I have to say. Human connection is such a powerful tool. I’m always here to be an ear. Reach out. If you need somebody to talk to, talk to me! Talk to your friends! Talk to your dog! This world is full of love and you have a right to grasp hold of it! If you are a friend to somebody who is struggling with any sort of mental disorder, know that the most powerful thing you can do is be there to listen. You don’t need to fix them. You don’t need to convince them of anything. The BEST thing you can do is remind them that you are here to listen if they need an ear. We can all get better at this together! Communication helps the world go round, and we are all in this together.
10. I have an un-diagnosed mental illness, I’ve seen multiple professionals over the past year to figure out what my illness is, I’m still trying to work that out, But the one thing that has surprised me is that out of the whole year I’ve been getting help, it was only about two months ago when I seen a mental health nurse, that I felt like someone was hearing me out, I spent months with a Psychologist and every time I mentioned something she never seemed to listen, I would tell her I’m Suicidal– she patronized me or change the topic, when she did ask about it, she never asking me how I felt it was always why? And when I bring up other issues- I tell her I was paranoia– she didn’t tell me how to help me get through it, she straight out said “you’re not a Schizohrenic” and changed topic, same with Hypomania “you’re not Bipolar” she never asked how it made me feel and same with medications- I tried telling her it made me feel horrible I want to stop taking them- she said no- keep taking them- I nearly ended my own life because the side effects were so bad- my Doctor said to stop taking them right away. When I seen this Mental Health Nurse- straight out didn’t patronize me, listened to what was happening in my life, and helped me understand my symptoms more and then referred me to a Mental Health Rehabilitation Program where I stay for several months to work on myself- what my illness is and work carefully with a psychiatrist to find out what medications I need and to keep track of them- to see if they are the right ones for me and helped my mum understand that I can’t help my mood swings and my dissociation, paranoia and all my annoying little symptoms, I can’t just switch them off like a light switch and made her aware of them, not to deny my mental health/illness. After that appointment I felt like someone was actually helping me, I felt so so frustrated with the help I was getting I would just scream and scream and scream, because no one would hear me out. I felt like a ton of stress was lifted and I felt so much better that I’m now receiving the help and support that I need.
11. I think the first time I was actually truly listened too and understood was at impatient. It took me a hospital visit before I was truly understood and listened to. It was with my room mate, she was going through similar stuff and not only expressed sympathy but understood that psychosis isn’t something we can control. It’s been a year now and my friends and family are starting to understand I can’t control what I see, I can’t control my paranoia. One way I helped express how I felt was threw art. It really helped me express how I was feeling and helped other people learned. It makes me feel like I can be myself and when I’m understood that I don’t have to pretend.
12. People have their own personalities, their own biases, their own opinions, their own judgments. This can make it really difficult for people struggling to speak up to do so. I grew up surrounded by assertive personalities and learned very quickly that it was easiest for me to suppress my own desires in order to keep the peace and keep others happy. This practice taught me that my struggles and needs were burdens to others that shouldn’t be heard, that I didn’t really deserve to be here, that I wasn’t validated. I was wrong. So often it’s easy to override others’ stories with advice or input of your own, but this isn’t always what others need. More than frequently, we need to just listen to those telling their stories. No one can fully understand what another person is going through or know how to solve others’ problems. By listening to someone, you validate that person’s story, free from the critiques and opinions of others. By listening to someone, they can feel validated in their life.
*Click here to read part one.